Comedian Brett Davis has been making name for himself – well, several names for himself. Known to many as Smith, rival public access host to Chris on The Chris Gethard Show, Brett and his many alter egos have a reputation for delivering some of New York’s most unpredictable comedy. From professional wrestlers to Dracula, and college professors to hacky standups, Brett is building worlds that Marvel comics would be jealous of.
Having spent the last few years producing, writing, and starring in live comedy shows throughout New York City, Brett is bringing his characters to MNN public access as the successor to The Chris Gethard Show. Taking Gethard’s former time slot, The Special without Brett Davis will be the center of Brett’s universe, as each week, host Brett Davis will be replaced by one of the characters he plays.
I talked to Brett about his divisive debut on The Chris Gethard Show, building a comedy universe, parkour, and what to expect from his new show.
You made a splash only a few months ago on The Chris Gethard Show with the debut of Smith, a character that may have invited more hate mail than the show was used to. How did the most controversial guest in the history of The Chris Gethard Show end up taking over The Chris Gethard Show?
Chris had come and done my monthly show at Shea Stadium, “The Macaulay Culkin Show,” and liked what he saw there, I suppose. He eventually invited me on to do a character based on some of the people he dealt with at MNN, the public access channel TCGS was on. I ended up playing it very real and somehow all the right pieces were in place for people to believe it. After that hubbub, he offered me a chance to follow it up with a special revolving around the Smith character.
Should we consider that special (“Truth or Myth with Smith”) a pilot episode for The Special without Brett Davis?
Yes. That show is a good marker of the types of shows we will be doing. “Truth or Myth” was intended to showcase not just my style, but the talents of my funny friends like Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Anna Drezen, Brett Wean, Lorelei Ramirez and other really funny people. Expect more of that.
Considering Smith’s introduction to the TCGS community, how was “Truth or Myth” received? Any more hate mail or tumblr rants? How do you think Gethard fans will react to The Special without Brett Davis?
I think it was received well! I’m sure it wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the TCGS fans have been so supportive of me, even though Smith calls them “lazy millenials.” I think this is the ideal audience. We’ll have fun guests, familiar faces, great bands, and interactivity. It will just be wrapped up in a new package.
What drew you originally to characters?
I’m fascinated by people, and drawn to the sad and delusional ones. That’s a streak that runs through most of these characters. Plus, it’s fun to wear wigs and become somebody else and say terrible things I would never say. Plus, I have my own way of expressing myself, and it’s called parkour.
Parkour is quickly becoming the world’s most beloved forms of self-expression. Considering your expansive rogue’s gallery, should viewers expect a new host every week and, with that, essentially an entirely new format and show?
I have every intention of hosting the show as myself every week. However, I just got a gift certificate for this Night Parkour class from winning a Red Bull drinking contest, and it’s really an opportunity I can’t pass up. So, I may miss some episodes here and there but I will be pushing my body to the limit with the art of movement. It’s an extensive class, but at the end, I will be a parkour machine, and my sweat will be the fuel.
Well, you can’t pass up an opportunity like that, even for your own television show. For the last two years or so, you’ve been running around nonstop throughout New York City. You have two monthly shows called “The Macaulay Culkin Show” and “The Lethal Lottery,” a weekly show called “The Tuesday Special without Brett Davis,” and, most recently, a string of performances at the newly-opened Annoyance Theater in Brooklyn. How has this helped you develop material and create characters? How have you made each one distinctive?
I think being onstage more will force you to come up with new ideas. “The Tuesday Special” is like my weekly workshop. My shows at The Annoyance are where I can really flesh out things and do one character for an hour or so. “The Lethal Lottery” is more of a showcase of my favorite comedians, where two comics (usually strangers to one another) are randomly paired together with a week to make a new comedy set, and I think it’s really high-energy and unpredictable.
“The Macaulay Culkin Show” (no relation, it’s just a dumb name) is just a showcase of my polished work and who I think are the funniest comics from various scenes. We’ve had Janeane Garofalo, SNL cast members, sketch, club comics, performance art, and we try to put on the craziest night of comedy in New York. This month, we’re doing a reading of a terrible screenplay I wrote starring Jon Glaser.
How do you decide which character to do and when?
It varies. Sometimes I know which character will go over well in a certain room, other times I’m experimenting.
Your characters tend to grow in complexity on stage – Dracula will transform from Prince of Darkness into a senile old man; Professor Jon Gentle, award-winning poet to suicidal hopeless romantic. These are characters that audiences end up empathizing with, rather than just laughing at. What pushes you to round out your characters and give them an emotional arc as oppose to just laugh lines?
So many characters I see are just a funny idea fleshed out, which is great. But I like telling a story with them, building a little universe and trying to make them three-dimensional. Empathy is really powerful because you can get away with so much more. And it’s not often you see emotional weakness at a standup comedy show.
The same crew of comedians and actors seem to pop up in your shows. How much collaboration goes into putting on one of your shows?
Tons. So much credit goes to my main collaborators Darren Mabee, Frank Flaherty and Sally Burtnick. They make these shows so much more and really flesh out my ideas and push me to go bigger and more dangerous. Plus, I’m surrounded by creative and talented folks, and they are all hungry to make stuff and take risks. Names like Ana Fabrega, Julio Torres, Joe Rumrill, Steven DeSiena, Joe Pera, Jo Firestone, Steve Whalen, Mike Abrusci, Mary Houlihan, Tynan DeLong…just to name a few.
Your shows have a large stretches of audience participation, generally asking members to step outside of their comfort zone. Of course, this can send a scripted show into the unknown. Do you find the shows become more rewarding the riskier they are? Can we expect this on The Special?
Totally. Comedy should be dangerous. Like parkour.
Photo by Robert Scheuerman.
Matt Schimkowitz is a writer from NJ. Follow him on Twitter.